Or at least that’s what I’ve heard but haven’t confirmed up until the third day on Hawai’i. We visited three sites: the Golden Pools of Keawaiki, Waikoloa Petroglyph Field, and the stunning Kīholo Bay. It was also the first day when our crew was split into three teams: the Hiking Team, the Cultural Team, and the Marine Team.
As the names suggest (and they suggest very well so perhaps there’s no need for me to go into more detail), the Marine Team spent their days touring beaches around the island. People interested in marine biology, underwater photography, species identification, and writing beach guides were a part of that team.
The Cultural team, very predictably, visited mostly cultural sites. Filled with people interested in anthropology, history, and those writing about myths and legends, the team surely had a lot of stories to share on the car rides to their destinations.
And then there was the Hiking Team, the one that, perhaps, requires a bit closer examination. It was the one I was a part of, and, as the name suggests, we did quite a bit of hiking. The members of the hiking team focused on wildlife photography, species identification, trail descriptions, GIS and mapping, and, in the form of yours truly, the geology of the island.
And although we spent most days separated into these three teams, one thing I loved so much about this experience was the fact that most days, the whole crew enjoyed dinners together in the outside pavilion at the base. (And yes, most days, the Marine and Cultural teams had to wait for us Hikers to come back before we could start cooking dinner.)
Golden Pools of Keawaiki
The Hiking Team was the first one to leave the base. (As it turned out in the following days, we were going to be the ones who had to leave earlier than others literally every day. And yes, it meant we had to get up earlier. But nobody seemed to mind; the island was exciting and every hike was full of mind-provoking and curious things.)
Ki drove us to the first trailhead and we headed out on a path made of broken a’a lava. The hike was a short one (only 2 miles total) but the lava made our progress very slow. We crossed Kings Highway, which is about 32 miles long, that stretched on seemingly forever through the lava field. Also known as Mamalahoa Trail, this path connected the Kailua/Kona and Pukao villages.
(Yes, Ki is another pseudonym — ki is a shrub that came from Polynesia and has been naturalized but in this diary, it’s the leader of the Hiking Team.)
The lava there was rusty brown rather than jet-black; as it’s an older lava flow, oxidization has done its job and changed the look of the landscape.
We made it on Lone Palm Beach, a black sand beach with a single tall palm towering over the landscape, resisting the waves of the ocean when they get tall. It looked mildly dejected but still stood tall and proud.
The beach itself was filled with remnants of marine life washed onto the shore by the waves. We hiked past the palm and over several bigger volcanic rocks, admiring the beauty of Keawaiki and Pueo Bays, and soon made it to the pools.
The Golden Pools of Keawaiki are anchialine pools that owe their color to the algae that grow there. When the sun hits them just right, it makes the lava on the bottom look like pure gold and turns the water beautiful golden-green color. A bit of vegetation grows around the pools and together with the ocean breeze, the bit of shade it provides makes for an excellent spot to take a break.
This was our first time together as a team and it became quite obvious very quickly that those people were some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Conversation came naturally, and before the end of the hike even came into view, I felt as if I’d known them my whole life, and trusted them as such. We talked about dogs; and as my dear doggo passed away just the morning of my flight to Hawai’i, it was a hard conversation to have. When I shared that news, apologizing for not being my cheery self, I was met only with understanding and support.
Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight; Don’t Bring Road Runners to an A’a Lava Field
I learned very early on that bringing my shoes that were a mix between road and trail runners to this hike was a mistake. The one characteristic of a’a lava you need to remember is that it’s got jagged, sharp edges that are not very gentle to your footwear. In fact, it is said that a’a lava got its name from the sound the Native Peoples of Hawaii would make when walking on it; deduction: it hurt.
By the end of the hike, the bottom of my OnClouds was peeling off the sole. They had it coming for a long time (by then they had some 600 miles on them) but the lava sure sped the process up. Moral of the story: don’t bring road runners to an a’a lava field. As I lent my spare, more sturdy shoes to my housemate from the Cultural Team who didn’t bring any hiking shoes, I concluded the OnClouds were just going to have to tough it out.
Waikoloa Petroglyph Field
The shortest of all the hikes, the visit to Waikoloa Petroglyph Field took us to a very nice area with a shopping centre, which meant bathrooms and water refills. Even though everyone brought at least a liter of water, we all went through our bottles during the short hike to the Golden Pools. The sun in combination with the wind dried us out like raisins.
The Waikoloa Petroglyph field had not only petroglyphs but also shelters, some in collapsed mini lava tubes and others made of stacked rocks that were built in a semi-circle, facing the windward side.
Some petroglyphs themselves portrayed men (triangular body shape) and women (stick-figure body shape) doing everyday tasks and some, circular ones, either single circles or several together that looked like bulls-eye targets, were games.
Kings Highway also runs through this site and we, although only shortly, set foot on it.
Kīholo Bay & Queens Pond
The drive to the trailhead once again involved roads completely unfit for anything that didn’t have high clearance and a four-wheel drive, even though we did see one Camry down there. I have no idea if it was going to make it back out but given that Toyotas can survive nearly anything, I wasn’t too worried.
We set out on the hike. Queens Pond was only a short walk from the trailhead, and many people hung out around it. Guarded by trees, it offered a bit of shade, and the ocean breeze was also weaker there.
The “pond” is actually an old lava tube that connects to the ocean under the ground. The ceiling of the tube collapsed in two places, the tube itself filled with ocean water, and now it looks like a swimming hole from dreams; however, signs at the trailhead warn against taking a dip. If you pay a visit to this beautiful place, please be thoughtful, heed the signs, and treat the place with respect.
The ‘architecture’ of the alluring Queens Pond allows for the sunrays that find their way into the lave tube to reflect back in a beautiful dance, making the unbelievably blue water look as if it was emitting light of its own.
We continued past Queens Pond, following the trail that disappeared on the beach to Wainanalii Pond, another place with incredibly blue water. Two Hawaiian green sea turtles were swimming right next to the coastline where the trail led us further away from the beach filled with people, enjoying the peace the distance offered.
In the crystal-clear water, it was easy to observe them feeding on the algae that grew on the rocks in the shallow water.
The trail reappeared for a short time after we left the sandy beach only to disappear completely once we hit an extensive lava field. This time, it was pahoehoe lava; much easier to hike on and much less likely to hurt us.
Still Waters Run Deep; Pahoehoe Lava Runs Fast
Pahoehoe lava is smooth and ropey and lacks the vicious sharpness of a’a lava when cooled. However, before it cools, it’s much more dangerous than its callous-looking cousin. Pahoehoe lava owes its smooth appearance to its higher temperature, and, therefore, lower viscosity when it’s ejected from the ground. One might outwalk the slowly-creeping a’a lava, however, one most certainly will not outrun the fast-flowing pahoehoe lava.
We settled down on one of the huge pahoehoe lava pillows on the side of Wainanalii Pond. The cove owes its milky-blue water to the fact that salt water and fresh water mix there, creating the perfect conditions for Mother Nature to give us a glimpse of this beautiful color.
The lava field drops off right into the water. There’s no beach; the only way to get in is to jump in right off the lava. Luckily, the clear water and white sandy bottom of the cove make it easy to see any potential hazards. We all jumped into the cool water of the cove. There’s no marine life, so this was just to enjoy a swim in the secluded place we had all to ourselves. (I managed to tear off a scab when I jumped in; I had injured myself quite badly only a few weeks before that, successfully scraping the skin from about a third of my shin, and it was healing quite slowly. However, I was to find soon that the saltwater, even though it soaked off my scabs, actually sped up the healing exponentially over the span of the week and several swimming sessions.)
I saw a sign on the small peninsula on the other side of the bay and, curious about what it said, asked Mao if he wanted to join me on a swim across the water. Koa joined us, too, and together, we made our way to the rocky peninsula. It wasn’t exactly a short distance but it was very well worth it, as, on the other side, we found another Hawaiian green sea turtle sunbathing on the rocks. The sign itself warned about giving the turtles the space they deserved. We kept our respectful distance not to disturb the turtle and soon decided it was time to swim back, as the clouds started to collect on the horizon and the wind picked up, raising the waves a little higher.
(Yes, Mao ad Koa are pseudonyms and, again, Hawaiian plants. Mao is endemic to all of Hawaii except for the Big Island. It has bright yellow flowers that close for the night and open up the next morning, going to sleep and waking up with the sun. Koa is a large tree that can grow up to over 100 feet tall. It’s also endemic to Hawaii except for Ni’ihau and Kaho’olawe.)
The Life-Changing Açaí Bowl
We hiked back to the car and left Kīholo Bay with its milky blue waters behind. It was time to get back to the base and start making dinner with everyone, however, Ki made a stop for açaí bowls.
In still-damp clothes, we went to a place that he’d been visiting for quite some time, claiming that it has the best açaí bowls on the whole island. I sure wasn’t going to argue with his, as I had never had an açaí bowl before that. Heck, I hadn’t even heard of açaí bowls before that faithful day.
How I had lived without having açaí bowls in my life before is a mystery to me now. That first bite was pure bliss, and apparently, it showed.
The whole team laughed when I, for once, shut up, leaving puns unsaid and enjoying the food instead. It was, indeed, a divine experience and an amazing ending to an already exceptional day.
Later that evening, after we ate dinner, the whole crew shared one best thing about the day and one worst thing about the day. When Ihi (our academic director) called on me first to share my best thing, I said it was the açaí bowl. My team, having the memory of my blissed-out face from the car, giggled once more, while Ihi made a joke on my account, which I can’t remember anymore; I was too busy thinking about the food.
What was the worst thing, you ask? Well, as Ihi called on me first again, I said it was right then — being called on first all the time. At least she gave me something to say; even though I hated hiking in wet clothes, I couldn’t really bring myself to complain about it, as the swimming that led to it was the definition of perfection.
Previous posts from Hawai’i (in chronological order from oldest to newest)